El Fandango

2734 Calhoun Street, San Diego CA 92110
$$ Mexican

Located in the heart of Old Town, El Fandango is a tribute to San Diego’s culinary history. Its name alludes to elaborate parties that were in vogue during California’s Gold Rush era when the influence of French, English, and Eastern American cuisines mingled with local American and Mexican fare. El Fandango’s menu reflects this melding of traditions, and offers both regional and “Cosmopolitan” selections. Dishes like the Tacos de Pescada share a menu with other favorites like the Stuffed Lamb Chops, resulting in a wonderfully diverse selection of authentic dishes. A meal at El Fandango proves to be a welcomed trip back in time for many hungry visitors.

A Celebration of Flavors Worth Remembering

Review by

The Old Town State Historic Park is a thriving tribute not only to the founding of San Diego, but also to the hundreds of years worth of history this town claimed as the first Spanish settlement in California. One building that stands as a physical marker to this rich past is the flourishing period-inspired restaurant, El Fandango. Named for the extravagant days-long celebrations of the Gold Rush era, El Fandango honors the melding of cultures and cuisines with a menu that stays true to the dishes that would have been shared from roughly 1846 to 1856. The building itself is also a testament to time, for it has stood for over one hundred years and continues to be a destination for savoring fine fare and community.

Our visit to El Fandango was highlighted by the smile-inducing atmosphere, service, and food. The front entrance to the restaurant is located in the heart of the park’s main plaza, and is surrounded by businesses and attractions that lure visitors with sights and sounds of another era. Stepping into El Fandango’s front patio cements the idea that, yes, one has in fact taken a step back in time; and yes, it’s a wonderful time to experience. Large circular tables covered with worn leather are shaded by umbrellas, and the entire space is graced by pots of lush greenery and blooming bushes.

The lower main level of the restaurant is divided into four distinct dining spaces: the front patio offers a lively and festive feasting environment; the main dining room is adorned with oil paintings and antique chandeliers that maintain a more subdued atmosphere complete with a large fireplace; the adjoining bar and sitting area is aptly suited to the 19th century saloon scene and gives patrons the opportunity to rest their boots, and perhaps sip something from the impressive tequila selection displayed behind the rustic bar. Another patio space is positioned off the bar and main dining space, and is concealed by whitewash adobe walls and greenery. Upstairs, a sun-lit dining room is ready to accommodate private parties of up to sixty people.

We dined in the front patio and reveled in the relaxed surroundings and warm weather so fitting of this city. Marco Puente, Event Manager and all-around master greeter of El Fandango, welcomed us with his gracious nature and genuine enthusiasm for the meal we were about to enjoy. We would be introduced to five unique dishes – some of which are time-tested staples on authentic Mexican cuisine menus, and a couple unique odes to their representative time period.

The first appetizer we sampled was the Shrimp Consuelo. Lying atop a bed of vibrant green lettuce were three lightly fried majestic jumbo shrimp stuffed with crab meat and wrapped in bacon. It would never occur to me to combine these three distinctive ingredients into one dish, but one bite proved the splendor of the idea. The play on textures was exquisite: The crispness of the bacon gave way to the delicate silkiness of the crab, and the firm texture of the shrimp nicely married the characteristic components of the other two. The flavors were similarly balanced as the slightly sweet notes of the crab quieted the bacon’s salty undertones. The shrimp’s unassuming meatiness and ever-so-discreet hints of sweetness were always present but never overwhelming. Another fine addition to the compilation was the jalapeno béarnaise dipping sauce made with tarragon, jalapeño, and half-and-half cream. Its smooth milkiness and mild intensity polished the dish into a seamless delight.

The next appetizer we were presented with was the Ceviche. It was served in a brilliant white platter that emphasized its stunning colors. Finely chopped pieces of shrimp, tomato, and onion mingled with freshly cut cilantro and parsley. A lemon and lime wash effectively “cooked” the shrimp, and cleansed the palate with its refreshing acidity. The aromatic intensity of the cilantro and parsley did not cower before the lemon, but rose up to offer yet another dimension of freshness. Likewise, the firm and smooth texture of the shrimp balanced nicely with the crispness of the tomato and onion. Also, thin slices of avocado graced the top of the dish, and were a creamy contrast to the more pronounced elements. The end result was as visually alluring as it was in taste.

Now that our taste buds were tickled and our appetites’ interest peaked, it was time to move on to the entrée selections. The first to arrive was the Sizzling Fajitas. Most-aptly named, we heard the dish come before we saw it. Once on the table, our senses of sight, sound, and smell were tantalized by the steaming cast-iron plate of chicken, yellow bell peppers, onion, and cilantro. The thick cut slices of breast meat were tender and retained a smoky depth that offset the energetic sweetness of the peppers and onions. Healthy portions of Spanish rice and refried beans were served alongside the fajitas and accompanied by freshly made guacamole and warm flour tortillas. Constructing our fajitas was a truly enjoyable task as we filled our tortillas with desired proportions of beans, chicken, rice, and veggies. The thick and creamy guacamole was a cool topping to the dish – it was equally enjoyable on its own with the fresh tortilla chips on the table. Soon enough, the fajita platter sat quiet, and we sat satisfied.

Many visitors might find the next dish we savored to be equal parts exotic and tasty. A large plate Of Chicken in Mole was served steaming hot and enticingly fragrant. The mole most popular in Mexico, and most familiar to American diners, is Mole Poblano – it is commonly prepared with dried chili peppers, ground nuts, spices, cacao (chocolate), and a number of other ingredients each chef utilizes to create his or her own unique version. The Mole Poblano we enjoyed was made with three types of chili peppers, chocolate, peanuts, and tomatoes, and was topped with sesame seeds. The warm and rich aroma greeting us from the plate forced me to wonder if the flavor could possibly live up to the scent… it did.

A first taste revealed lively notes of rich meatiness and mild spice, as though we were sampling a full-bodied tomato sauce. But as one bite turned into two, three, and four, more subtle and seductive elements peaked out. The complexity of the spice combination became apparent as a smoky baseline gained the attention of my sinuses while sweet and nutty hints awoke different points in my mouth. The chicken breast itself was tender and juicy, and provided a nice and mild vehicle for the enjoyment of the sauce. After reminiscing over the last taste, I understood why this often time-intensive dish is usually reserved for special occasions in its native land: it deserves to be longed for.

It would take a truly special dish to follow the grandeur of the mole, and luckily the Burrito de Camarones was up to the challenge. This unassuming dish was simply plated with the requisite sides of rice and beans, and left little to the imagination in the way of flavor – or so we thought. The pure genius of this tortilla-encased poema de sabor was that the best part was hidden inside. A rich and creamy filling of sautéed shrimp, pico de gallo, cheese, veggies, and rice had our full attention, and hearts, at the first bite. Large pieces of plump shrimp could be found throughout, and little gems of corn, carrots, and peas popped up here and there to offer sweet hints of joy. The smooth and refined flavor of the cheese did not so much glue the dish together as help every component shine. And to top it all off was the smoky ranchero sauce drizzled on top. Fork and knife and fingers alike worked just fine in getting to the heart of this humble yet dazzling dish.

El Fandango offers that fine balance of welcoming service, ambiance, and cuisine that seems to elude so many establishments these days. Perhaps it is the stroll through the historic courtyard on the way to the meal, or the painstaking details on the part of the restaurant to whisk patrons back in time for an authentic experience; or perhaps it’s the thoughtful and flavorful food itself. More likely is that all these factors contribute to the celebration that is El Fandango.

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Business Info

  • Address: 2734 Calhoun Street, San Diego CA 92110
  • Cross Street: Mason Street
  • Location: Old Town
  • Cuisine: Mexican | Sunday Brunch |
  • Cost: | Inexpensive
  • Category: Casual Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Meals Served: Breakfast | Brunch | Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street | Public Lot |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | MasterCard | Discover |
  • Corkage Fee: N/A
  • Staff: Maria Bonilla | Chef
  • Phone: 619.298.2860
  • Features: Full Bar, Sunday Brunch, Live Entertainment, Outdoor Seating, Private Room, Prix Fixe Menu, Wheelchair Access, Happy Hours,
  • Occasion: Child Friendly, Special Occasion,


El Fandango - Sizzling Fajitas
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Business Hours

Reservations Available
Breakfast - Main Dining Room 9 a.m. - noon
Happy Hours - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room noon - 9:30 p.m.
Breakfast - Main Dining Room 9 a.m. - noon
Happy Hours - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room noon - 9:30 p.m.
Breakfast - Main Dining Room 9 a.m. - noon
Happy Hours - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room noon - 9:30 p.m.
Breakfast - Main Dining Room 9 a.m. - noon
Happy Hours - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room noon - 9:30 p.m.
Breakfast - Main Dining Room 9 a.m. - noon
Happy Hours - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room noon - 9:30 p.m.
Breakfast - Main Dining Room 9 a.m. - noon
All Day - Main Dining Room noon - 9:30 p.m.
Breakfast - Main Dining Room 9 a.m. - noon
All Day - Main Dining Room noon - 9:30 p.m.
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Customer Reviews & Ratings

4.5 out of 5 stars based on 1 votes